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SSI2-119: Foodways: Background (Tertiary) Sources

Getting Started with Subject Encyclopedias

Building context (and recognizing when you need more context) is an important element in the research process. Tertiary sources, especially subject encyclopedias, are often the best place to start when you are trying to establish some basic historical, social, or cultural context.

Articles in subject encyclopedias are written by scholars who have deep specialization in the topic and the articles themselves go through a stringent editing process. These resources can help you with:

  • Understanding the scope of a topic
  • Suggesting ideas for narrowing a topic
  • Identifying key concepts, terms, dates and names
  • Listing subject areas related to a topic
  • Recommending sources for further exploration

In Collins Library, the print reference collection is located on the first floor, and most of the online reference collection is available in one of the database collections listed on the right.  Use Primo to identify subject encyclopedias in either format; or ask a librarian for recommendations.

Featured Subject Encyclopedias

Start with these subject encyclopedias and branch out as needed. 

Print encyclopedias and dictionaries are located on the first floor of Collins Library.

Featured Online Resources

How Can Subject Encyclopedias Help?


Subject encyclopedias provide a quick way to capture multidisciplinary lenses on a single topic. Compare, for example, the following selection of entries, all on the topic of the community-supported agriculture, organic farming, or the local food movement.  For each entry, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which academic disciplines are being called upon to explore the issue? 
  • What disciplinary differences do you notice in the way the topic is covered?
  • What types of evidence are cited?
  • What kinds of research questions might this lead you to ask?
  • What additional sources does the subject encyclopedia point you to?


Group 1: "Organic Agriculture", Encyclopedia of Food and Culture

Group 2: "Community Supported Agriculture", Encyclopedia of Community

Group 3: "Community-Supported Agriculture", Green Food: An A to Z Guide

Group 4: "Community Food Systems", The Gale Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Food Labels

Group 5: "The Local Food Movement", Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection

Group 6: "Organic Farming", Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy

Group 7: "Community-Supported AgricultureThe Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America

Online Reference Collections

Not sure where to look?  Each of these online collections will introduce you to a wealth of dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Resources for Exploring Topics

Need Help?

This subject guide highlights only a small portion of the many resources available to you. If you're not finding what you need, don't hesitate to contact Katy!

Katy Curtis, Humanities Librarian
Schedule an appointment
tel: (253) 879-3672
office: Collins Library 140

If you can't find Katy, remember there are several ways to get help with your research

For immediate assistance, connect to our 24/7 Ask a Librarian chat service.